It’s about the water
Morgan County’s Marcellus Shale Committee is set to report to the county commissioners tomorrow, following up on the group’s suggestions last year about how to handle future fracking for natural gas locally.
No matter how much opposition it fires up, hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — is likely here to stay. The United States has plenty of natural gas that can be captured from Marcellus shale deposits via the fracking method.
More and more, utility companies are switching from coal to natural gas because it burns cleaner and, at least for now, is cheaper. And people are looking at all sorts of ways to use this natural gas to cut down on imports of foreign oil.
The major concern about fracking is its impact on water resources. Fracking requires huge amounts of water, which is mixed with chemicals and, in the end, is dumped near the well site or trucked away to other locations. Zeroing in on the water issue seems to us to be a better use of effort than fighting a rearguard battle to stop fracking altogether. That battle seems lost already.
When the West Virginia Legislature held a special session to come up with statewide fracking regulations in December 2011, legislators fumbled the ball. Under pressure from lobbyists, they scaled back the required distance between drilling operations and water supplies used by humans.
At the time, lawmakers claimed they could revisit fracking in the future. We’re now in the midst of the second legislative session since and there’s no sign of tighter rules. We suspect legislators are waiting for a disaster to give them reason to act. Farsighted and courageous are words rarely used to describe the West Virginia Legislature.
We would suggest two practical law changes as starters.
First, the distance between fracking operations and water supply needs to be increased. Presently, fracking can take place just 100 ft. from a lake or stream, 250 ft. from a water well, 650 ft. from occupied dwellings, and 1,000 ft. from public water intakes. Figure out how close this could be to your home or well, and you’ll understand the concern. For safety sake, those distances could even be tripled.
Our second idea comes from the fracking debate in western Maryland. Last year, some Garrett County residents and real estate people proposed a Gas Lease Registry. The registry would be a database that could be checked by anyone before they buy, lend money on or insure a property. That way they’re not going to be surprised two years later when drilling rigs and hundreds of tanker trucks show up next door.
Such a registry might cause landowners to think twice before they sign a lease, since it will be clearer to them that they are affecting their future property values. This is, after all, the key. If people don’t sign leases, there will be no drilling. And, gas companies need enough wells in close proximity to warrant a pipeline.
Protecting water and property are concerns that everyone can relate to. They should be the real basis of the debate over hydraulic fracturing.
Once again we urge lawmakers to create fracking rules as if the drilling were taking place right next to their homes and businesses. After all, it may be one day.